Turns out that swearing is not a sign of low intelligence. Science shows it’s just the opposite.
I can still vividly recall a time in my childhood when my cousin who was the same age as me (eight at the time) said a swear word while we played. Because I was a very diligent dibber-dobber (don’t judge me) I informed my Aunt who proceeded to literally wash her mouth out with soap.
While I can’t remember the actual word she said (although it probably wasn’t anything worse than “heck”), she nevertheless was taught a lesson that no doubt left a bad taste in her mouth.
I, on the other hand for some reason did not (possibly because there wasn’t soap in my mouth) and over the years I began to build up my swearing vocab and its frequency, despite my mother’s disapproval. Even now as an adult, dropping the f bomb is about as frequent as washing my hands in a COVID world (i.e. a lot).
But hold the soap people, because research has it that swearing is actually good for you and a sign that you are not as vulgar, uncivil, unintelligent or have such a limited vocabulary as some people may like to think.
In fact, a whole range of extensive research into swearing and its influence actually shows the opposite; from profanity being a sign of intelligence to it assisting us with a whole plethora of things, including like pain tolerance. In other words, swearing is fu*&ing amazing!
And OMG we do give a damn.
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Swearing can be a sign of creativity
Emma Byrne, the author of Swearing Is Good for You, says that swearing appears to be centred in the right side of the brain, the part people often call the “creative brain.”
She explains that people who swear more are often more creative-minded and this is something inherent within our actual brains.
“We do know patients who have strokes on the right side tend to become less emotional, less able to understand and tell jokes, and they tend to just stop swearing even if they swore quite a lot before,” she says.
Swearing is a sign of intelligence
Nope, there are no dumb arses here. A study in the US found a strong link between how fluent a person is in the English language with their fluency in swearing.
By asking volunteers to list as many different words beginning with certain letters in a minute and then doing the same with listing as many swear words, they found that the people who scored highest on the verbal fluency test also tended to do best on the swearing fluency task. The weakest in the verbal fluency test also did poorly on the swearing fluency task.
In other words, the wider your vocabulary for non-profanity, the wider your vocabulary for swearing is too.
Most importantly (for me at least), the study dispelled the idea that people use swear words because they don’t have the ability to use something better to express their emotions.
Swearing is a sign of honesty
A 2017 study, The Relationship Between Profanity and Honesty, revealed that people who curse often actually lie less and have a higher degree of integrity.
After the scientists surveyed how often participants use profanity, they conducted a series of tests to determine how truthful an individual was.
“We found a consistent positive relationship between profanity and honesty; profanity was associated with less lying and deception at the individual level and with higher integrity at the society level,” the report says.
Yes, profane language is often viewed as more authentic and unfiltered, thus making its users appear more honest.
Swearing helps pain tolerance
Just like the undecipherable mutterings of robber Harry in Home Alone, curse words are often the go-to when experiencing some sort of pain (hello childbirth). And if you have always thought that muttering (or screaming sh*t) helped you deal with pain; you may be correct.
In a study completed in 2009 by Richard Stephens, a group of volunteers were asked to hold their hand in iced water for as long as they could tolerate, they were also asked to repeat a swear word while they did so. The study showed that swearing actually increased pain tolerance and decreased perceived pain and enabled the volunteers to keep their hand in the ice water longer than those who didn’t swear.
Oh no, there is a but…
And in the words of Logan Roy from Succession, “fuc* off”.
Sorry fellow potty mouths, swearing like a sailor at sea may not be the way to go despite these findings. Because apparently overusing swearwords can mean they lose their oomph.
Psychologist Meredith Fuller tells Body +Soul “a rare swear is okay, frequently it loses its power. Using it for emergencies or shock is fine but you shouldn’t swear all the time.”
And with that, on behalf of all the excited swearers out there I say… “ahhh shi&!”
Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher.